You don't have to be a master chef to wield a knife like a pro, or an engineer to get the most out of your kitchen appliances. You may know the way around a kitchen, but there's nothing to stop you from taking it to the next level. Here are a few simple ways you can make better use the things you already have in your kitchen, from your knives and cutting boards to your dishwasher.Photo by Percita.
There are a few things that everyone has in every kitchen, whether it's galley-style in a studio apartment or a custom design job in your new home. Most of us have a refrigerator with a freezer, an oven, and if you're lucky, a dishwasher. Regardless of what's for dinner, you'll probably use a knife and cutting board daily, if only for serving. Here's how to squeeze every bit of usefulness from each of those tools.
Wield a Knife Like a Pro
Choose Your Two Knives: Contrary to what your local knife salesman will tell you, you only really need two knives in your kitchen: a good chef's knife or Santoku that's about 6 inches to 12 inches and a shorter, 4-inch to 7-inch utility knife. You can accomplish virtually any cutting, peeling or paring task with just those two knives. Bread knives and filet knives are useful in their own situations, but for all purpose cooking, you'll turn to these two above all others.
Photo by Sara Björk.
Safety first: Jeffrey Elliot, author of The Complete Book of Knife Skills, discusses some basic knife safety tips in this video at Chow, including reminders to pass a knife handle-first and to transport knives in your non-dominant hand when moving across the kitchen (instinct makes us push our dominant hands forward to break our fall – which is bad for the person in front of us if we're holding a knife.)
For added safety, consider the "Scout's method". When passing a knife handle-first to another person, get them to say "thank you" aloud only when they have a firm grip on the hand. Then, before you let go, say aloud "you're welcome", and then let go of the other end. Making the other person acknowledge that they have the knife avoids you accidentally letting go too early and the knife falling, and making sure they know when you're letting go avoids them pulling on the knife too early and cutting open your hand.
Cut in a circular motion with the heel of the knife: Once you begin, cut with the heel of the knife, not the tip. Use a fluid, circular rocking motion to cut objects on your cutting board, moving the object into the path of the knife, not the knife along the object. If you're cutting with the tip, you're wasting time and energy. Here's another video to demonstrate. Also, remember to curl in your fingertips so the blade moves parallel to your knuckles.
Dice an onion like a pro: Art Rogers, chef/owner of Lento in Rochester, New York, a while ago. He showed us how to handle a knife properly and cut an onion like a real chef. The same skills are applicable to almost anything, and can save you a lot of time when preparing or serving food.
Cherish Your Cutting Boards
Now that your knives are chosen and you know how to handle them, it's time to address your cutting surface.
Place a towel under your cutting boards: Everyone has a cutting board or two in their home, but you can keep them from slipping around your countertops by folding a tea-towel and placing one underneath while you chop. It keeps the cutting board in place, and stops it– and your hand- from moving while you cut.
Avoid wooden cutting boards with meat: Also, if you're using wood cutting boards for meat, poultry, or fish, stop now. As you cut through them, you're also cutting the wood of the board, and bacteria from the uncooked meat and fish are getting into those tiny cuts and they're not coming out, no matter how much you scrub.
Get some plastic, dishwasher-safe cutting boards for the unsanitary stuff, and leave your bamboo, oak, walnut, or other artisan-crafted board for the vegetables, bread, serving duties and other cooked food. Just make sure to rinse and dry them well after use, give them a little scrub with some kosher salt and acid now and again, and oil them down periodically.
Maximise Your Fridge and Freezer's Efficiency
Your fridge keeps your food cold, sure, but how can it work more efficiently?
Pack your fridge: We've mentioned this before, but pack your fridge and freezer as much as possible: they operate more efficiently when full. Your fridge will work harder at the outset to cool the added items inside, but once it does, anything you put in will require less energy to cool because the overall temperature will stay lower.
Check your seals: Another easy way to make sure your fridge and freezer are as efficient as possible is to check the seals around the door. Make sure they're tight and that they aren't leaking cool air. If they are, it might be time to replace them, or re-attach them. If you can get behind your fridge, consider cleaning the condenser coils as well.
Keep a mental inventory: The best way to make your fridge more efficient is to keep the door shut and only open it when you need to — keep stock of what's inside on a whiteboard on the door so you don't have to open it just to check if you have a certain ingredient. Photo by Richard Kelland.
Keep Your Oven in Top Shape
Fridge tips apply: Some of the above fridge tips apply to your oven as well. Making sure your oven door is well sealed when shut is a great way to not waste energy heating your kitchen when you're trying to bake a cake or reheat leftovers. When reheating those leftovers, cook as much in the oven at the same time as possible: using the oven once will save you time and money over heating one dish, then resetting the temperature and heating another.
Turn it off a few minutes early: One often-overlooked way to save some time and money with your oven is to just turn it off a few minutes in advance at the end of the cooking process. The residual heat will continue cooking your food as the oven gradually cools. It may seem like common sense, but you'll never forget to leave the oven on if you turn it off five minutes before your food timer goes off.
Again, keep the door shut — you lose up to half of the hot air from a pre-heated oven each time you open the door, and that forces your oven to work harder to heat up again. It costs you time, and it costs you money. Set a timer and walk away. Photo by Ryan.
Make the Most of Your Dishwasher
If you're lucky enough to have a dishwasher, you're also unlucky enough to have one of the most energy inefficient appliances in the kitchen. They're much better now than many used to be, but there are still a few ways to make them work a little harder for you.
Don't pre-wash your dishes: First, don't pre-wash your dishes unless you know your dishwasher can't get them completely clean. Pre-washing will waste water before the dishwasher even runs. We know, not every dishwasher is powerful enough to get your dishes sparkling after every meal, but if it is, or your meal was light, pre-washing is a waste of time and water. Skip it.
Only run your dishwasher when it's full: Also, only run your dishwasher when it's packed completely full. Again, it makes sense, but a full dishwasher is an efficient and water-saving one.
Go with your energy-saving wash cycle: Finally, choose energy-saving and air-dry cycles whenever possible and run your dishwasher at night. The energy-saving cycles are there for a reason, and most of us overlook them, opting instead for the "hot start" and "heated dry" options. Running the dishwasher at night will give air-dry settings longer to dry your dishes, and if your dishwasher releases a lot of steam or heats your kitchen, you won't be around to be uncomfortable. Photo by David Locke.
Don't Stop Here
Making your kitchen work for you as much as you work in your kitchen is about knowing how to use the tools you have and tweaking them in simple ways to optimise them. Once you're familiar with them and the way they work, changing your habits in simple ways can make a world of difference. If you don't know how to begin, try our geek's guide to rebooting your kitchen to get a fresh start.
This list is by no means exhaustive. What are some of your favourite ways to squeeze the most benefit from the equipment in your kitchen? Share your tips in the comments below.